The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.006 Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Date: January 5, 2017 at 2:52:22 PM EST
Subject: MV Dialog
Once we have determined that Portia represented Elizabeth and Bassanio represented the second Earl of Essex on the Political/Religious/Current Events Dimension of Meaning, the identities of the other main characters on this Dimension fall into place.
1. Gratiano as the third Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare changed Il Pecorino to add an original Gratiano character who accompanied Giannetto/Bassanio to Belmonte/Belmont and to the trial of Anselmo/Antonio. Gratiano appeared to be on the same level of society as Bassanio/Essex, although Gratiano seemed to consider himself to be a follower of Bassanio just as Southampton considered himself to be a follower of Essex. Southampton was having an affair with Elizabeth Vernon/Nerissa, who was a cousin of Essex and a Lady-in-Waiting to Elizabeth/Portia.
2. Shakespeare as Lorenzo.
Lorenzo was a character in The Spanish Tragedy. I surmise that Shakespeare acted this role, and that his contemporaries as theater people, as well as many of the experienced playgoers in London, would have recognized him as having performed Lorenzo in this popular play.
O my Anthonio, I do know of these
That therefore onely are reputed wise,
For saying nothing… .
I must be one of these same dumb wise mean,
For Gratiano never let’s me speake.
Well, keep me company but two yeares mo,
Thou shalt not know the sound of thine owne tongue.
During the outbreak of plague in 1592-93, the Crown ordered the complete closure of all theaters in London. Shakespeare may have kept company with Southampton during this period.
As he did with Mercutio in R&J, Shakespeare may have provided us with a glimpse into Southampton’s personality.
…but heare thee Gratiano,
Thou art to wilde, to rude, and bold of voyce,
Parts that become thee happily enough,
And in such eyes as ours appeare not faults;
But where they are not knowne, why there they show
Something too liberall, pray thee take paine
To allay with some cold drops of modestie
Thy skipping spirit, least through they wilde behaviour
I be misconsterd in the place I goe to,
And loose my hopes.
Gratiano speakes an infinite deal of nothing,
more than any man in all Venice, his reasons are two
graines of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall
seeke all day ere you finde them, & when you have them
they are not worth the search.
(This sounds like good friends teasing one another.)
But could Shakespeare have doubled Lorenzo when he played Shylock? I believe so, for two reasons. First, Lorenzo and Shylock never share the stage at the same time. Second, Shakespeare wrote into the play excuses for Lorenzo showing up late so that he could remove his Shylock Jewish gaberdine and uncover the Lorenzo garb beneath.
Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode,
Not I, but my affaires have made you wait:
I pray you give me leave to goe from hence,
I am not well.
FAUSTUS/ JEW OF MALTA:
Pardonnez moi, monsieur, we be no well.
Many editors and commentators envision that Shylock left the stage a trembling and broken — even suicidal — man because he had been forced to deny his Jewish heritage and become a Christian. The plain meaning of the words suggests as much.
However, the plain meaning of these words must also be considered in connection with the reference to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Barabas, disguised as a French musician, had just poisoned Bellamira and Pila-Borza and needed to make a hasty exit. Shylock needed to make a quick exit as well: Shakespeare had so arranged it that Shylock’s presence was no longer needed in the scene. He (as Shylock) needed time to change into Lorenzo for the In such a night duet with Jessica that began Act 5.
3. Nerissa as Elizabeth Vernon. On the Source Dimension the Lady of Belmonte did not have a maid such as Nerissa. Her maid was merely a serving girl who later married Anselmo; Nerissa was more of an intimate companion on a slightly lower social standing. Elizabeth Vernon was a Lady-in-Waiting to Elizabeth and was carrying on an affair with Southampton at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Southampton later married her against the Queen’s wishes.
4. Belmonte as Belmont. The Belmonte of Il Pecorino did not exist. Belmont was the Hampshire home of Southampton’s recusant cousin, Thomas Pounde. Thomas had helped the Jesuits and had been imprisoned for a number of years. He became a Jesuit late in life.
5. Antonio as Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague. Montague was Southampton’s maternal grandfather and, together with his second wife Magdalen Dacre, were the most prominent Catholics in England. Their home, Cowdray House, was called Little Rome.
Bassanio said of Antonio:
…and one in whom
The ancient Romane honour more appeares
Then any that drawes breath in Italie.
In Shakespeare's time, Rome and Roman signified Roman Catholic.
Montague died in 1592. Antonio was inexplicably sad because he was dead (but was not aware of that fact). He had much ado to know himself, and Gratiano remarked that he was marvellously chang’d.
51 Behold, I show you a secret thing, We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall blow, and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
6. Stephano as Stephano.
LORENZO: Who comes so fast in the silence of the night?
STEPHANO: A friend.
LORENZO: A friend, what friend? your name I pray you friend?
STEPHANO: Stephano is my name… .
LORENZO: …My friend Stephano… .
Notice that Shakespeare as Lorenzo asked the Messenger for his name, and called him friend several times in quick succession (as previously discussed, a Shakespearean marker to alert the audience to pay particular attention to that word). Nowhere else in the play did anyone ask for a messenger’s or servant’s name or refer to the messenger or servant as friend or something similar. The Guise faction in France plotted to have Elizabeth poisoned by an Italian named Stephano.
7. Flesh but not blood. This was a contentious issue during the Reformation.
PORTIA: This bond doth give thee heere no jot of bloud,
The words expresly are a pound of flesh:
Then take thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,
But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian bloud, thy lands and goods
Are by the Lawes of Venice confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.
In Il Pecorone, the flesh/blood quibble was just that, a legal quibble. In MV, Shakespeare created a specific statute. He knew that the bare quibble would not hold water with attorneys or judges in attendance.
Il Pecorone did not specify Christian blood. That comes from Faustus. Edward Alleyn made an indelible impression on audiences with his final words as Faustus just before he descended into hell:
FAUSTUS: See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament:
One drop would save my soul, half a drop!
In 1559 Elizabeth had enacted the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity that forbad the Catholic Mass. During Mass the people could partake of the Body (bread) of Christ, but only the priests could partake of the Blood (wine) of Christ. The Anglican communion service allowed the people to partake of both. Article 28 of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, upon which the Catholic Mass was based. There are numerous references to flesh and/or blood throughout MV.